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Symptoms of breast cancer are different for each person, and in some cases, even invisible or nonexistent. Some common warning signs (pain, swelling, lumps) are not always noticeable to the touch or naked eye, making mammograms the most effective way to detect breast cancer early.
Despite being the best and most accurate breast cancer screening method we have at this time, annual screening mammograms are not always on everyone’s radar. Starting at age 40, most women can begin annual mammograms, yet some skip or postpone screening, often due to unwarranted fears or misinformation.
When it comes to breast health, separating fact from fiction is fundamental. If you’re confused about what you hear or read, consult your health care provider for advice and get your facts from reliable sources. Here, we explore the truth behind common misconceptions about breast cancer and mammograms:
Myth #1: Breast cancer affects only older women.
Reality: All women are at risk of breast cancer. While age increases your odds, breast cancer can occur in women younger than 45–particularly if cancer runs in their family. Women at high risk may need to start screenings before age 40, including women with a mother, sister, or daughter who has had breast cancer.
Myth #2: Mammograms are expensive.
Reality: By law, most health insurance plans must cover screening mammograms for women over age 40. In many states, Medicaid and most health insurance plans (as well as Medicare) cover annual screening for mammograms. Call your insurance company to confirm coverage. If you don't have insurance, talk to your provider about your options. You may qualify for reduced rates or a free mammogram.
The Engelstad Foundation R.E.D. Rose Program (Responsible Early Detection) provides free breast health screening and diagnostic services for those who are uninsured or underinsured. To see if you’re eligible for the program, call 702.620.7858. Bilingual services are available. La detección temprana es la mejor protección.
Myth #3: Mammograms are painful.
Reality: Mammograms are faster, more convenient, and less uncomfortable than ever today. They’re also more accurate and provide peace of mind to millions of women every year. If you’ve postponed your mammogram out of fear of discomfort, remember that any possible discomfort is temporary and essential for optimal results.
To put your mind at ease, ask your provider for ways to prepare for your mammogram, such as taking over-the-counter pain relief medication. You can also share any concerns about your breast size or tenderness with your technician on the day of your appointment. If you have large breasts, your technician may need to take several images of the breast tissue. Another tip to remember is to schedule your appointment a week or two after your period. That’s when your breasts are the least tender.
Myth #4: No family history or symptoms means I’m in the clear.
Reality: Most women with breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer. In fact, studies have shown that being a woman and getting older are the main factors influencing your risk. If you’re 40 or older and have no history of breast cancer in your family, you should get an annual mammogram, even if you don’t have symptoms. After 55, you may switch the frequency to every two years or continue annual mammograms. Talk to your doctor to determine if your risk of breast cancer is high and when and how often to get mammograms.
Myth #5: Breast cancer always causes a lump.
Reality: Many women diagnosed with breast cancer never have or feel a lump. What's more, not all breasts are created equal. What is normal for you may be unusual for another woman. Additionally, several factors, such as your period, having children, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications, can affect how your breasts look and feel. Breasts also tend to change as you age.
Annual mammograms can detect breast cancer and save lives. They’re currently the best way to detect breast cancer early when more treatment options are available. Schedule an appointment and talk to your doctor about your concerns or if you are unsure about the screening guidelines.
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If you are uninsured or underinsured, please contact the Engelstad Foundation R.E.D. Rose Program to see if you qualify for free breast health screening and diagnostic services program. Bilingual services are available.
Email: [email protected]
ACS Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines
Getting Called Back After a Mammogram | Mammogram Call Back (cancer.org)
How to Prepare for a Mammogram | Preparation for Mammography (cancer.org)
What Are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer? | CDC
Mammograms - What You Should Know | Susan G. Komen®
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer? | CDC